On July 5th, 2016, I have officially become certified as an Advanced Open Water Diver in Koh Tao. My first taste of the island was for a snorkeling trip, and I never stepped into a wetsuit. However, I was intrigued by the divers gearing up on the boats next to us that morning and wondered what it would be like to be underwater. A few years later, here I am, taking my final dive to complete my Advanced Open Water course.
Now comes the big secret that not a lot of people know or would've guessed. My biggest fear is drowning. I love the ocean, lakes, and rivers. I love waking up to the smell of ocean breeze at home. I marveled at the ocean's strength while watching the waves rise out of the water. As much as water brings life, it can also quickly endanger or end life in seconds.
The thought of being trapped and consumed by water terrifies me. Watching the introductory video illustrating all the possible ways that diving can endanger my life didn't ease my growing anxiety. "Why am I doing this again?" repeated over and over in my head.
I started practical instruction at a hotel pool. There was another, Nishant, who was also getting his certification as well. After making sure we wouldn't just sink like paper weights in the ocean, the instructor walked us through the equipment, explaining and showing how to operate each piece. At first, "BCD" and "BWRAF" were foreign, but we slowly began to comprehend these acronyms as the day progressed.
Eventually, it was time to take our first breath underwater. Once again, fear reared its ugly head. What if something goes wrong? What if the equipment stops working? What if I look really stupid? When my turn came, I took a moment to breathe and thought rationally about the situation. Nishant and the instructor were present in case of emergency. The pool is shallow and a confined environment. I know how the equipment works. Really, what if anything, could go wrong? Thus, I took the plunge (literally). Look ma! I can breathe underwater! Pool stage complete.
Now, the real deal starts. The next day, we would be embarking on our first ocean dive. A friend would also be on the boat for her first dive. We could pop our diving cherries together. I prepared our gear without much trouble. Afterwards, our dive instructor, Sebastian, showed us the location of our first dive, explained our route and what we will see. Conveniently, the first site was in an area where I snorkeled on my last visit to the island. Confidence slowly took place of my fear. I can do this.
The time came for my first step into the ocean. After the instructor jumped in, "ladies first" took on a whole new meaning as I was first diver in the boat to step off. I looked down and saw the endless dark blue depths. It's just like the pool. I can do this. I put on my regulator, took a deep breath, and walked off the boat's ledge.
The plunge lasted a few seconds, but the ocean wasn't cold but warm. The water felt refreshing and comfortable. Instead of fear and dread, I was overwhelmed with joy and curiosity. Taking that step unlocked a world below I've never imagined existed. Despite one bad bout of seasickness, I completed my Advanced Open Water license after five days.
Overcoming any fear doesn't come immediately. It takes acute awareness, deliberate intention and conscious action toward things that scare you. I realized I have more control over our fears than we though, and I only become a slave to fear when I allow myself to be intimidated by it. I was also not alone in facing my fears, so take heart that we all have family and friends who will be there every step of the way to come support you at a moment's notice. Do not let fear control your life and stop you from doing amazing things.